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The Wolves of Winter


The Wolves of Winter

I began reading THE WOLVES OF WINTER when I was home sick with the flu. The Northeastern United States was experiencing some of the coldest weather on record and preparing for a “bomb cyclone.” The internet was ablaze with commentary on “nuclear buttons.” Is there a better time to start reading a novel that takes place in the midst of a nuclear winter after a flu pandemic?

In Tyrell Johnson’s debut novel, Lynn McBride and her family have spent the last seven years living deep in the Canadian Yukon. As the winters grow longer, snowier and more bitter, they hunt and fish, keep a few goats and a musk ox, and survive where it’s too cold for the flu virus to get them. They haven’t seen another person other than Conrad, a reluctant neighbor they knew from “the old days,” since they fled Eagle, Alaska as the flu wiped out people around them and claimed the life of Lynn’s dad.

"The book is a page-turner... It’s a fun, quick read, and Johnson throws in a few sci-fi elements toward the end."

One day, Lynn stumbles upon Jax, a mysterious man with a dog called Wolf, and invites him back to her family’s little compound for some food. Jax doesn’t say much; he seems jumpy and secretive, but has a wounded leg, so he’s allowed to stay until it heals. A week into his convalescence, some traders happen by the compound. The situation escalates quickly, and in a matter of minutes Jax has killed three of the four traders with ease. It turns out that the men are from Immunity, an organization masquerading as a government agency searching for a cure to the flu but really has nefarious intentions. It also develops that Immunity is looking for Jax.

So Jax heads north to find the trader who escaped and Immunity’s camp to stop them from coming for Lynn’s family. Her uncle Jeryl goes with Jax to make sure he doesn’t lead Immunity back to the compound. Lynn leaves the cabin she shares with her mother to hunt but ends up following Jax’s and Jeryl’s tracks. A blizzard kicks up, there are men with guns, and danger ensues.

THE WOLVES OF WINTER is being marketed as a post-apocalyptic novel in the same vein as The Hunger Games trilogy and STATION ELEVEN. I’m a big fan of those titles, so I was particularly excited to read it. The marketing is dead-on; WOLVES is essentially a conglomeration of the two. Lynn is a fiery young woman who has lost her beloved father, has a strained relationship with her mother, finds solitude in the woods, and is deadly with a bow. The larger world has been decimated by the flu, cities are dangerous, and wild animals can be more trustworthy than humans. Because of my familiarity with the other books, this one felt a bit unoriginal at times, though this may not be an issue for many other readers.

The book is a page-turner nonetheless, especially in the first half. But like the blizzard that traps Lynn as she tracks Jax and Jeryl, it begins to peter out after a while. It falls victim to so many of the genre’s clichés that the sheer predictability of the narrative becomes almost ridiculous. Almost. It’s a fun, quick read, and Johnson throws in a few sci-fi elements toward the end. Those elements combined with the clever way he wrote the ending leave the proverbial door open for more tales about our heroes and the interminable winter.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on January 12, 2018

The Wolves of Winter
by Tyrell Johnson